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By now you have checked out our WhatIfSports.com 2013 NCAA Bracket Predictions, which have simulated the Big Dance 1,001 times, with the Kansas Jayhawks coming out on top. However, apparently your March Madness thirst remains unquenched. Understandable, as one can never get enough hoops fix during this wonderful week of the season. Below are breakdowns and previews of each NCAA region, highlighting the top contenders of the tournament, as well as the underdogs who could be breaking hearts and brackets across the country. Enjoy.
Midwest Region-Adam Meyer
The No. 1 overall seed goes to… the Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino's boys rolled out eight straight wins (including double-digit victories over every opponent in the Big East tournament) to end the season and the NCAA bracket committee rewarded them. Senior (they still have those?) Peyton Siva may not lead the team in points (only 10 ppg.), but he's a master facilitator handing out almost six assists per game and only 2.7 turnovers per game. In Louisville's five losses, Villanova was the worst team (as far as fellow tournament teams go) to upset the Cards. A rematch against Duke in the Elite Eight is a possibility. But until then, your bracket should be safe picking the Cardinals.
Speaking of the Blue Devils, they were dubbed the No. 2 seed. Coach K's team went into the ACC tourney as the second best team in the nation, but an early loss to Maryland (for the second time in 30 days) stripped away a No. 1 seed. The group from Durham may have fallen three times to subpar teams, but they average the sixth-most points per game overall (78.3 ppg). This entry is led by a trio of seniors: Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. Together they average 48.5 points and 18 rebounds per contest. Also, though Kelly missed 14 games with a foot injury, his team was a perfect 17-0 with him in the lineup until the last game against the Terrapins.
It wouldn't be March Madness without mentioning Tom Izzo. He's only won one title with Michigan State (1999-2000), but his Spartans are poised for another deep run. When MSU loses in the previous Sweet 16, they tend to make it to the Final Four, or farther, the following tournament. No one individual stands out (the average fan may only know of Keith Appling), but together they won 25 games and only lost to one team not in this year's tourney (UConn). Izzo's teams are 37-14 (.725) in the NCAA tournament.
Other notables include: Saint Louis, Creighton and Oregon. The Ducks won the Pac-12 tournament over UCLA and snagged the dangerous position of a No. 12 seed. That spot has won at least one game in 22 of the last 24 playoffs. The Bluejays won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tourney. Besides impressive wins over Wisconsin, Akron (pre-Alex Abreu suspension) and Cal, they also have the best team field goal percentage in the nation (50.8 percent). The winkin' Billikens won't be the most talked about team in their Atlantic 10 conference, but they should be. VCU and Butler have become perennial Cinderellas and Saint Louis is a perfect 5-0 against them this year.
West Region-Joel Beall
The hunter now becomes the hunted.
Gonzaga, a team that has perennially been synonymous with "bracket buster," reigns the West Region as the No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs, with five appearances in the Sweet 16 since 1999, compiled a 31-2 record this season, winning both the WCC regular season and tournament championships. Mark Few's squad is led by junior Kelly Olynyk, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 boards per game, and fellow forward Elias Harris, chipping in 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Though their resume lacks a surfeit of signatures wins, victories against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and a three-game sweep of St. Mary's show the Zags are not to be taken lightly.
However, the journey to Atlanta will be an endeavor for the Bulldogs. Standing in their way are the Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh off their own title run in the Big Ten. A Final Four participant in 2012, the Columbus crew is armed with the scoring dexterity of Deshaun Thomas (19.6 points per game) and guidance of point guard Aaron Craft (4.7 assists, 2.1 steals). A 13-5 conference mark may convey fragility, but emerging as the conqueror in Chicago this weekend in what many consider the toughest conference in the nation, the Buckeyes will be a trendy pick to repeat their Windy City exploits.
Also making noise in the region will be No. 3 seed New Mexico, who finished second in the RPI entering the Big Dance. The Lobos will be on upset alert in their opening game against a frisky Harvard team, yet Steve Alford has quietly built a formidable program in Albuquerque, one that the country may become more acquainted with this spring. Kansas State, Wisconsin, Arizona and Notre Dame are other teams in the region that garnered their fair share of buzz this campaign, all which are more than capable of fulfilling deep-run aspirations. For those not buying into the Zags, the Wildcats and Badgers both pack the punch to make a bid for the Final Four.
Aside from the aforementioned Crimson, schools looking to play spoiler will be the No. 10 seed Iowa State Cyclones, the No. 11 seed Belmont Bruins and the No. 12 seed and SEC tournament champion Ole Miss Rebels. If you're looking to ride an underdog, the Bruins, making their sixth trip to the tournament since 2006, have the depth and explosiveness (15th in team scoring at 77.2 points per game) that is conducive to March ventures. Additionally, don't sleep on the winner from the No. 13 seed play-in game pitting Boise State against La Salle. As the VCU Rams demonstrated in 2011, a First Four entrant certainly has the aptitude to make Cinderella dreams come true.
And if anyone knows about fairy-tale visions, it's Gonzaga. Fitting, then, that in this topsy-turvy winter of amateur basketball, the school that helped set sail the ambitions of mid-majors around the country finds itself on top of the college hoops world.
South Region-Adam Meyer
Kansas rolled through the Big 12 tournament with the help of Ben McLemore (16.4 ppg) and Jeff Withey (13.6 ppg and 8.4 rpg). Coach Bill Self may have some embarrassing NCAA tournament losses, but overall he is 33-13 in the Big Dance. The Jayhawks' most impressive win of the regular season was when they defeated Ohio State, but on the downside they lost to non-tourney teams TCU and Baylor.
The No. 2 seed in the South Region is Georgetown. This Big East season was labeled "the end of the Big East as we know it." The mighty conference may lose the title as the best collection of teams in college basketball, but the Hoyas put their stamp on the conference's final stanza finishing 25-6 overall and 14-4 within their division. Sophomore, and future NBA talent, Otto Porter Jr. leads the Hoyas in points (488), rebounds (221) and steals (56). John Thompson III is 8-8 through eight tournament runs.
Florida was beating Georgetown by four at the half in the first game of the season, but then the game was cancelled. No, someone didn't turn the Xbox off in frustration. They played the game on a naval ship and the court became slippery, forcing officials to call it. Now, Billy Donovan is working toward his third 'ship. The Gators have four players that average double-digit points per game (Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Patric Young). However, losses to non-dancing teams Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, combined with losing the SEC championship to Ole Miss, lowered this team's resume.
Other notable teams include: Michigan, VCU and Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have the seventh-highest strength of schedule (fourth-highest on some rankings). Shaka Smart has six tournament wins in two seasons with Virginia Commonwealth. The Wolverines didn't lose a game outside of their Big Ten schedule.
East Region-Joel Beall
If the Hoosier state is recognized as the "holy land" for American hoops, Indiana University would be one of the denomination's patriarchs. Alas, following lean years near the end of the Mike Davis Era and the fallout from the Kelvin Sampson controversy, Bloomington had been somewhat of a lost soul. Yet thanks to rejuvenation under head coach Tom Crean, IU has returned like the Prodigal Son. Amassing an impressive 27-6 record, Indiana sits atop the East Region as the No. 1 seed.
Led by All-Americans Victor Oladipo (13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (16.9 points, 8.2 boards), the Hoosiers overcame a gauntlet of a schedule, a sentiment reflected in their finishes in the RPI (eighth) and BPI (fourth) rankings. Moreover, they boast arguably the most impressive body of work of any entrant, with wins over Georgetown and Ohio State, and sweep of Michigan and Michigan State. Though Indiana enters the tournament with three losses in its last six outings, a majority of brackets will have the Hoosiers penciled into the Georgia Dome.
Hoping to stop Indiana's march to the land of peaches are the Hurricanes of Miami. Few would have envisioned an NCAA bid, much less a No. 2 seed, from head coach Jim Larranaga's roster after an early November loss to Florida Gulf Coast. However, the U made waves by knocking off Michigan State and steamrolling Duke, riding the surge to a 27-6 mark and winning both the ACC regular season and tournament championships. Directed by one of the best all-around guards in the nation in Shane Larkin and assisted by the down-low presences of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, Miami makes up for a lack of tournament experience with unparalleled skill and swagger. Larranaga's Big Dance acumen, including 2006's unforgettable Final Four run with George Mason, along with Larkin's breakout ACC performance (28 points, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals) has made the Hurricanes the dreaded team no one wants to play this March.
Speaking of unexpected success, few believed Marquette would serve as a dangerous opponent in the fall, as the Golden Eagles were picked seventh in the Big East preseason rankings. Yet Vander Blue (14.3 points) and Davante Gardner (11.5 points) propelled Marquette into a first-place tie in the conference and a No. 3 seed in the East Region. Though Davidson is hardly a walk in the park, one would think Marquette is far from closing the book on its magical season.
Syracuse, UNLV and Butler round out the region's top seeds. For those looking for an option other than Indiana or Miami, the ‘Cuse is an intriguing alternative. At times, Syracuse appears offensively challenged, evidenced by recent matchups against Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Louisville. Nevertheless, efficient rebounding and defense is a deadly combo, one Jim Boeheim has executed to perfection in tournament past. And, if memory serves correctly, Butler seems to perform adequately during this time frame of the calendar…
For upsets, California's pedigree for a No. 12 seed is enticing, and Illinois' takedowns of Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State make the Fighting Illini a worthy foe. Also keep an eye on N.C. State. Though the Wolfpack fell short of their preseason projection, the talent pool is deep for Mark Gottfried, and the team did damage as a No. 11 seed last year, making it to the Sweet 16.
All of which makes the East one of the more daunting brackets in the Big Dance. But for the Indiana faithful, the tournament is more than just a spectacle; March Madness is a rite of faith. Hopefully for their Hoosiers, there's a grail at the end of their quest.
Adam Meyer is a Contributor for WhatIfSports.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FOXSportsMeyer.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.